Observations & Commentary on Acts 27:1-44

For your pleasure, some observations and commentary on Acts 27. You will want to read the actual Bible text along with this. The New Living Translation and The Message are great for reading. But for studying, I recommend the English Standard Version (though there are many good translations out there).
  • Acts 27:1
    • Note that Paul is traveling with a group (cf. “ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Acts 16:10 (ESV))Some appear to accompany Paul long term while others accompany Paul for a while and then return to their home.
    • THE AUGUSTAN COHORT. This does not appear to signify anything special. A Roman cohort officially consisted of 600 soldiers (though it could vary from 500-1,000) divided into hundreds, each hundred being overseen by a centurion. Cohorts were often given honorific titles, such as this one named after Augustus. There is external evidence verifying the existence of this cohort. A Roman legion consisted of 10 cohorts.
  • Acts 27:2
    • The company taking Paul to Rome would assume that somewhere along the coast of Asia they could connect with a ship headed to Rome.
    • ARISTARCHUS. Aristarchus had been Paul’s traveling companion since Thessalonica. He was one of the people dragged into the theater at Ephesus by an angry mob led by Demetrius the silver smith. So we know that at least Aristarchus and the writer of Acts (presumably, Luke) are accompanying Paul.
  • Acts 27:3
    • JULIUS TREATED PAUL KINDLY. Paul had obviously won the trust of the centurion who was transporting him to Rome. One commentator suggested that, based on this respectful treatment, Julius had been present at Paul’s trial. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Julius did not send a soldier with Paul as an escort.
  • Acts 27:4-8
    • SAILED UNDER THE LEE. This is a nautical term referring to sailing in the shelter of an island because the winds are not favorable for the direction you are heading.
    • SHIP OF ALEXANDRIA. Alexandria was a major city on the Northern coast of Africa on the west side of the Nile River delta. Egypt was a great producer of grain. This was a big ship, a freighter, with room also for passengers — 276 people, we find out later. 
  • Acts 27:9
    • DANGEROUS. “Dangerous” is specific, for it refers to the period between the middle of September and the first part of November; after November 11 all navigation ceased until March 10. (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (p. 1069). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.)
    • THE FAST. The Fast is the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, the most solemn holy day on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur falls on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishri (the 7th month). Because the Jewish calendar is set by astronomical events, the dates move around with respect to our dates. On our calendar, Yom Kippur moves around last September and early October.
  • Acts 27:10
    • Was this simply Paul offering wisdom or is this a revelation to Paul? (in verses 23-24, Paul reports an angel appearing to him to tell him everyone will survive.
  • Acts 27:11-12
    • Can you blame the centurion for listening more to the pilot and the ship’s owner than the Jewish Christian Pharisee prisoner?
    • PHOENIX. A harbor further along Crete. They supposed they could safely hug the land for this short voyage.
  • Acts 27:13
    • The pilot and captain didn’t sail foolhardily into bad whether. They had decided tentatively to move on and, since the weather looked good, they decided to go for it.
  • Acts 27:14-15
    • TEMPESTUOUS WIND. The Greek word used here is the word from which we get “typhoon.” The mountains of Crete are 7,000 feet tall and created a swirling gail as it blew them uncontrollably away from land into the open sea.
  • Acts 27:16-17
    • SECURE THE SHIP’S BOAT. This was not a lifeboat as modern ships have. This was a boat used for ship-to-shore transportation when the vessel set anchor in a harbor. Typically this boat would be towed. When the sailors had the opportunity under the shelter of the island, Cauda, they hoisted it up on deck and fastened it firmly in place. It was probably a fairly sizable boat, since it had to service a ship that could hold over 275 people (see verse 27)
    • UNDERGIRD THE SHIP. These were wooden ships made from timber laid stem to stern. Violent weather put great stress on the ship which could cause the timbers to separate leading to taking on water and sinking. Even today some ships sink in storms because the plates of the hull separate under the violent twisting forces. To “undergird the ship” is to pass several coils of rope around the entire ship to strengthen it and, hopefully, hold it together.
    • LOWERED THE GEAR. There is some disagreement as to what this means. Come believe they lowered drag anchors to slow their progress toward Syrtis. The other explanation is that they lowered the mainsail, etc. and used a small sail to keep the boat pointed in the right direction during the rest of the storm (which they could not escape). This would preserve the mainsail for when the storm abated which would allow them to sail on and find land rather than continue to drift in the sea. Unfortunately for those of us trying to understand the details, the Greek word for “gear” in verse 17 is “skeuos,” which simply means object, thing, jar, possessions.
  • Acts 27:18
    • JETTISON THE CARGO. This is very generic. The Greek simply says “jettison.” So they started throwing stuff overboard.
  • Acts 27:19
    • Again, they were throwing stuff overboard. This time “the ship’s tackle with their own hands.” This can’t be the necessary tackle such as the mainsails and the anchors because those are used later. This is that generic word “skeuos” again! It appears that they started throwing their own stuff overboard: furniture, chests, whatever weighed anything substantial.
  • Acts 27:20
    • Most people reading this will never have experienced “all hope” being lost in the way these people adrift in a storm in the open sea for many days.
  • Acts 27:21-26
    • Paul starts by pointing out that he was right and they were wrong. Probably not to shove it in their faces, but to give credence to what he is about to say. Then he makes very specific predictions: no human loss, but the ship will not survive. Paul, as ever, is not afraid to talk about supernatural things. He encourages the people with the message of the angel.
    • SOME ISLAND. But Paul doesn’t know exactly where or when this will happen.
  • Acts 27:27-28
    • ADRIATIC. This is the “Adria” as defined in Paul’s day, not the Adriatic Sea as we define it today.
    • FATHOM. A fathom is six feet. Fathoms are measured by lowering a weighted rope down to the sea floor and then counting the number of lengths of rope between two outstretched hands there are until the end of the rope is reached.
  • Acts 27:29
    • ANCHORS. Note that they had not jettisoned essential tackle.
  • Acts 27:30-32
    • Some sailors try to escape under false pretenses using the ship’s boat. By this time, the centurion has enough trust in Paul to set the ship’s boat adrift!
  • Acts 27:33-38
    • This illustrates the difference between positional leadership that comes from rank, (such as the centurion, the pilot and the boat’s owner possessed) and persuasive leadership, which comes from trust placed in the leader. The positional leaders may have been officially “in charge,” but we clearly see that Paul has become the leader by this point.
  • Acts 27:39-44
    • And so it happened.
A little shout out to my friend, Mathew, who provided a metaphorical lesson from this text. The sailors did two things to weather the storm: they bound up the ship and they jettisoned unnecessarily things weighing them down. In your life, what are you going to do when the storms come? What is binding your life together? And what are you carrying around that could be jettisoned? Good thoughts worthy of personal contemplation.
Peace!
Pastor John